Skyline High School bids ‘irashaimase,’ or welcome, to Japanese culture

May 29, 2012

By Lillian O'Rorke

Student Lauren Brown (right) draws people as manga characters. By Lillian Tucker

“Irashaimase,” means welcome in Japanese and that is just what visitors heard May 19 when they entered Skyline High School.

Inside, students dressed in everything from jeans to kimonos were busy hosting the second annual Issaquah School District Japan Matsuri/Expo. Planned in collaboration with Liberty and Issaquah high schools, the event featured games, performances and plenty of food to sample.

“We want people to understand Japanese culture, get involved and have fun,” said Sandy Lee, a senior at Issaquah High School.

She donned a canary yellow kimono while she welcomed festival guests with a group of students.

Once through the door, visitors were offered a cupcake decorated with Japan’s flag and a paper passport. Those who filled out the passport completely, by visiting all of the booths and participating in activities, were entered into a raffle. Sticking to the theme “Japan Still Needs Our Support,” guests were asked to make donations to raise money for tsunami relief efforts.

Inside, on the stage in the commons, the students were busy entertaining the crowd with a program that included mock Japanese game shows. During one, contestants competed to see who could throw the most balls into a basket on their teammate’s head. Another challenge had guests trying to feed their teammate bread on a string dangling from a stick.

Outside, students hovered over a children’s pool filled with colorful water balloons. They were playing yo-yo balloon fishing and trying to hook the balloons with a paper clip attached to a piece of paper. While the games were fun for the participants, most of the action took place in the gym.

The corridor leading to the gym filled with smells, giving the nose a preview of the culinary trip the mouth was about to take. Inside, the gym guests were invited to try a variety of things, including thin wheat noodles, called somen, which are usually served cold and inarizushi, sushi rice packed into pouches of sweet fried tofu. One booth challenged people to a giant-sushi eating contest; another explained the tea ceremony.

Aaron Kwan and several of his classmates spent much of the festival preparing onigiri or rice balls that were filled with either spam, bacon, cucumber or spicy tuna.

“A lot of Japanese food is used like a lunch box type of thing — it’s more portable,” said the 17-year-old Skyline student. He explained the onigiri was used during wars when Samurai warriors could easily pull them out to eat after a battle. “We want to show more of what portable food is like.”

“I want to get more students interested in Japanese. It takes the fear factor away,” Jordan Hamilton said.

The 15-year-old takes a Japanese course at Issaquah High School and said he was happy to give up his Saturday to offer festival guests the tempura he had made.

“It’s the best class, pretty much, I’ve ever taken,” he said. “Every day, we come in, we learn something new about Japan — the culture, language, food.”

At the dango booth, Lisa Oh’s and David Fox’s pink, green and white sweet Japanese dumplings were quickly disappearing.

“I took Japanese for the challenge. The culture is so different so there is always something interesting to learn,” said Fox, a student at Issaquah High.

It bugs him, he said, that as time passes the tsunami devastation that Japan still faces gets less attention from the media and the world. Next to his dango platter sat a donation jar.

“Other than spending five bucks at Starbucks, we would rather help children now,” he said.

Donations collected during the expo were sent to Peace Winds America, a Seattle-based disaster relief organization that continues to work to restore livelihoods in the hardest hit regions of Japan.

Lillian Tucker: 392-6434, ext. 242, or Comment at

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